The Invasion (Part II) (4.10)

If Christmas is an invasion (see last week’s devotional), then how are we to understand passages where OT prophets prophecy the Messiah is promised as one who will bring peace, where Jesus himself talks about giving peace, and we read numerous references throughout the NT where peace is referred to as a present reality?  I believe it begins with a proper understanding of the term “peace”.

I think there are at least two types of peace, and I’ll refer to them as intrapersonal peace and interpersonal peace.  Intrapersonal, or internal, peace is that peace we have within ourselves, whereas interpersonal, or external, peace is the peace we have with others.  When Christ told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you” (John 14:27) and Paul spoke of the “peace that passes understanding”, (Phil 4:7) I believe he was partly talking about this peace on the inside that we sense as Christians – the peace we talk about and hear about when someone is going through a difficult time in life but they say, “And in all of this I have this peace that everything is going to be all right.”  It’s something that’s inside them and has nothing to do with peace between peoples (or nations).

The second type of peace, interpersonal, is the peace I believe Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to when he said, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” (incidentally, this quote was used in the 1997 movie Air Force One in reference to peace between a country and a terrorist organization).  This type of peace is not yet present in our world, and it won’t be present until evil is vanquished, Satan is completely overthrown, and sin (and its consequences) are gone.

And it is the conquest for that peace in which we find ourselves today, a time of war between the spiritual and unseen powers that surround us.  We are the middle of a war, a war that is striving to restore justice, and until justice is restored by the Prince of Peace we will always have this tension in our lives: while Christ has given us peace, we still must fight for ultimate peace until he returns and restores it.

There is one more type of peace that I haven’t mentioned yet, and this is the peace that Christ provides us today for those who believe, and that is peace with God.  When we sinned we joined Satan’s side in the war he waged against God.  The great mystery of the Christian faith, however, is that when we become Christians we switch sides: because of Jesus we can have peace with God and we now fight on his team against our former commander – and make no mistake about it, God’s team is the winning team.

Until we understand and view life through this lens (understanding) of peace, war, and justice, we will never fully understand all that is happening around and to us.  We have an enemy, and enemy who seeks to devour and destroy us.  Which means we are at war.  Christmas was the Great Invasion, the day God turned the tide and allowed us to be on his team in this war.  The angels proclaimed, “Peace on Earth” at the annunciation of his birth, but the peace they proclaimed was only “to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).  There will come a day when peace is offered to all – when justice will rule and evil will be vanquished for eternity.  Until then, we are warring “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12).

The invasion has begun.  Which side are you on?


The Invasion (Part I) (4.9)

“Christmas time is here,
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

“Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

“Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

“Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year…”

So we are reminded by the Peanuts Gang…  Even one of our songs (my favorite Christmas choral song of all time), Christmastide, proclaims that Christmas is a time when “Peace, and love, and hope abide.”  Who doesn’t think of Christmas as a time of peace and tranquility?  Certainly that’s what we see portrayed in movies, read about in stories, and hear sung on the radio.  But “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more…”  So suggested one of the greatest philosophers of our day: Theodore Geisel (more commonly known as Dr. Seuss).

I think too often we allow non-scriptural references to infect our doctrine (I was having a conversation about this yesterday with someone, actually!), and our understanding of Christmas (and it’s impact) is no different.  Too much of our belief about what Christmas was (and is) are drawn more from Silent Night and Away in a Manger than they are from Scripture.  Read how the birth of Christ is described by the Apostle John….

Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance.  I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event.  I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads.  His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth.  He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.  She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod.  And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.  Then there was war in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels.  And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven…And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.  (Rev 12:1-5, 7-8, 18)

What happened in Matthew when the King learned of the birth of Jesus?  “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”  (2:16)

John Eldredge writes, “The birth of Christ was an act of war, an invasion.  The Enemy knew it and tried to kill him as a babe.”  This morning Pastor quoted Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  This is not an image of defense for the church, but of offense.  Too often Christians think this verse paints the picture of us standing inside a walled city, resting in peace and tranquility, and that Satan can’t get through the defenses (so we respond by relaxing in some tropical paradise).  But that image couldn’t be further from the truth!

The image is one of war – of a fierce battle, where we are soldiers on the offense attacking the walled fortress (we’re on the outside) – and it’s a promise that the “gates of Hell” won’t withstand the onslaught!  It is not an image of resting in a tropical paradise, but of residing on a battlefield deep behind enemy lines – a place where most of us have never been and those who have would tell us we don’t ever want to go.  Yet that is exactly where Christ (and Christmas) places us.

When was the last time you ever thought, read, or heard about that understanding of Christmas?  We’ll look at this a little more next week.

Thanksgiving List 2011 (4.8)

Every year I create a new list of what I’m thankful for, so since this is our last rehearsal before Thanksgiving here’s this year’s list.  As always, this is in no particular order, and if I’ve left something off know that this is not ALL I’m thankful for, it’s just what will fit on the page.  Having been doing this exercise for several years, I can tell you that this exercise is invaluable in redirecting my focus back towards the giver of everything, and I would strongly encourage you to try it yourself.  Some of the things on my list are big, some or little, and some are a little strange (you may not understand them all since some you had to be there to get) – but for everything here I am thankful.  One disclaimer – since some people get offended if they are accidentally left off a list like this, there are no names, just initials – that way I know who they are, but no one else does (and if they’re your initials you don’t know if it’s you or someone else with the same initials!).

Christ, God’s faithfulness, my family, the girls, Cosette, Christoff, a house and a home, a job, my job, new washers and dryers, electricity, friends, walks in the woods, fall leaves, snow days, swimming in the summer, a week at the “beach house”, the mountains, parmesan crusted baked red drum (that stuff is good!), triple-decker Oreos, double stuff-Oreos, chocolate-Oreo ice cream, Peppermints, the iPhone, a computer (even though it ain’t a Mac), Macs, Evernote, iPad, sermons on my iPod, GPS-enabled tracking when I go hiking, the kayak, seeing dolphins on the water, state parks, health insurance, allergy medicine, a car that runs (even when the window doesn’t work), air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, wood-burning fireplaces, campfires, insurance companies, a roof over my head, wireless mice, really-cool-presenter-tools, traveling for business, coming home, home-cooked meals, pizza, chocolate cake with chocolate icing, good health, healing, healthy children and family members, Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters (even those in heaven), the cross, the empty tomb, the ability to read, the printing press, Friday morning Bible study before work, surprise trips to Dunkin’ Donuts, kids-eat-free at Chik-fila, kids-eat-free deals, buy-one-get-one-free, buy two-get-three free ice creams, great co-workers, pets, play-houses, running in the open field, watching the girls play together, snuggling on the couch, free books, music, guitars, pianos, listening to my wife play the piano, violin lessons, knowing how to type, Twitter (though the jury is still out on Facebook), WordPress, a new camera, support from family and friends, forgiveness, second chances, third chances, fourth chances, un-deserved chances, grace, dish washers (any kind that doesn’t involve me standing over the sink and washing dishes), our great baby sitters, learning, “I love you, Daddy”, “DAAAAAADDDDDDYYYYYYYY!!!!!”, marriage, rocking chairs (especially when they’re shared with my daughters), Baby Girl, Little Girl, Sweetie, RSC, KS, P&BL, AP, DP, MC, CO, SJ, SM, M&GK, B&LF, people to talk to, friends and family who answer the phone whenever, weekends-away on a house boat, JW, SB & MP coming to check on me, hearing “Well done!”, J&MD, lunch out with friends, CG, great neighbors (who share chainsaws and swap babysitting!), BCCS, “Mama-hugs” when mama is away, SINET, a good mechanic, trust (given and received), picnics, Cook Out shakes, a good home-made cheeseburger, grilling out, selling old stuff on eBay, a self-propelled lawn mower, swing sets, hammocks, faith, living in a country where I can openly share my faith, the right to vote, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, sunny days, rain, trials (even though they’re difficult) because they cause me to grow, paper, new paint on the wall, laser printers, a good relationship with my in-laws, trips to SLC, air planes, wood decks, hot tubs, pools, Excedrin migraine medicine, file cabinets (even if they are unorganized), LCD projectors, Prezi, working for a good boss, dead roaches, hope, salvation, prayer (and the right to pray), people praying for me, people for whom to pray, sub-jobs, students, Windows (only because it shows how wonderful a Mac is!), three-ring binders, pens and pencils, paper clips, Post-It notes (especially the ones in the fan-fold dispensers), a good chair to sit in, furniture, DVR, the Bible, afternoon naps, and teddy bears.

The Missing eMail (4.7)

This past week I went 24 hours without email – really!  It was a wonderful, yet frightful, experience.

Here’s what happened.. On Wednesday I left my office about 11:35 for lunch.  When I returned after lunch I was surprised to see no emails – but I wasn’t too worried since I had a 1:30 and 2:30 appointment.  To make a long story short, I ended up missing my 2:30 appointment and working in my office all afternoon.  However, for the entire afternoon I didn’t receive a single email message – which was wonderful because I got so much done.  You have to understand that my Blackberry seems to buzz non-stop throughout the day (and even night), so the fact that I had five hours without a single buzz allowed me to get caught up on a lot of back-work.

That night I checked my Blackberry before I went to bed (as I always do), just to make sure there are no “surprises” waiting for me the next morning.  No new emails.  Interesting….  The next morning I woke up and checked my BB again – no new email messages.  Again, interesting, but I was more relieved than anything and felt a sense of “Wow, life is good.”

That morning I arrived in my office and worked in my office all morning until I was getting ready to leave for a lunch appointment about 11:15.  Just before I left I realized that it had now been 24 hours (almost to the minute) since I had received any email messages.  Now I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong… So I went into my Gmail account and sent myself an email – but it never arrived in my inbox.  So then I sent myself an email from within the work email program and it did not come through.  All of a sudden, I realized I had a problem.  So I began search – I looked in my  Spam folder, not there.  I looked in my Junk folder.  Not there.  So I started going through ALL my folders and finally, when I opened up my trash, I found over 75 unopened email messages from the past 24 hours!  All my email had been routed (incorrectly) to my trash without me ever seeing it.  I quickly moved them back to my inbox and spent the rest of the afternoon (after lunch) going through 24 hours worth of emails!

Which got me thinking… How often does God send me a message but I miss it because I’m looking for it in the wrong place or the wrong way?  How often do I take what he’s trying to tell me and send it (either accidentally or intentionally) to my “trash”?   And how long would I have to go without hearing his voice before I even realized there was a problem?

While I was questioning the lack of emails I received over that 24 hours, it wasn’t until it had been a solid 24 hours that I even began to try and figure out what the problem was (a sorting rule gone awry – it took me about 5 minutes to figure it out and about 30 seconds to fix it).  How long would I have to go without hearing from God before I began trying to figure out why?

I noticed my email problem fairly quickly because electronic communication fills such a large portion of my life – in this instance, over 75 instances in 24 hours; but normally it is many times that!  Each of those 75 emails required a response, and many of those responses resulted in extended exchanges – so I literally exchange hundreds of email in a single day.  But how much time every day do I spend interacting with God?

How about you?  Which of the following would you notice a problem with soonest: your email, your cell phone, your wallet, your Facebook account, or hearing from God?

How we answer that question is a good measure of where our priorities lie.

A Walk in the Woods (5.6)

Skipping.  Literally – skipping and hopping!

For days Chloe had been asking me, “Daddy, when are we going HIKING!?!?!” (emphasis hers).  So the second day we were in Virginia we went and did a moderate little climb, and she had a BLAST (perhaps about 1.5-2 miles round trip).  And as soon as we finished that hike she was asking again, “Daddy, when are we going hiking AGAIN!?!?!?” (emphasis hers).  So on our way back from Virginia we took a brief stop at exit 99 off Interstate 64 and parked at the entrance to the Shenandoah National Park where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins.  Along the Blue Ridge at this point runs the Appalachian Trail, so we went down and decided to hike the trail as our last hike. Melissa was leading the charge, the girls were both hiking between us, and I was bringing up the rear.  And Chloe?  She was hopping and skipping down the AT!

She was so excited to be out in the woods hiking, but what was even more exciting was for me to watch her as she enjoyed this new experience – the excitement in her eyes, her energy as she flitted along the trail.  That was absolutely priceless.

Which makes me wonder: what does God feel when we travel the road path he lays out for us?  If I as a human father experience such joy when I witness my Little Girl running and playing in the woods, how much more does my Heavenly Father experience joy when I spend time “in the woods” with him?

So often Bible study, prayer, and quiet time get pushed aside in a busy day because I’ve got other things to do.  What would I have felt this weekend if when I told Chloe we were going hiking she had responded with, “That’s okay, Daddy, I’ll just stay in the car and watch a movie on the DVD player instead.”?  I would have been heart-broken.

But that’s the equivalent of what I too often say to God when he invites me to journey with him.  His invitation may not be to go on a literal hike in the woods and may instead look like an invitation to work at a new job, volunteer for a new ministry, or invest in a new relationship – but it’s ultimately an invitation to spend time with Him.

So the next time you hear his voice calling, make sure you answer “Yes” – you’ll not only get to hop, skip, and jump down the path he has for you, but you’ll bring Him joy, too.

Character (4.5)

My early-morning men’s group is currently studying the book of Daniel.  Each week we get together and go through a section of the book as we study and try to apply the principles in the book to our own lives.  This week we looked at the incident with the furnace.  As is the case with most studies of this chapter we began discussing the ever-popular question: “So where was Daniel?”

The author of our study guide gave an explanation I had never heard – and, honestly, that I wasn’t that fond of.  The author suggested that perhaps Daniel used his royal position to come up with an excuse to remain back at the palace doing official business.  That way he was able to avoid the situation all-together.  Our group discussed this for a few minutes, and during the discussion I made the comment I found it hard to accept Daniel – with everything we know about him from scripture – would use his position to avoid a confrontation (look what he did when he was ordered not to pray or face death by lions).  As we threw this back-and-forth between us I just could not accept that someone with Daniel’s character would cower in the face of opposition.  I found it much easier to accept the idea that he was actually away on official business – not cowering in fear.

Regardless of where he was, though, it opened a great conversation with the men about our character.  The reason I had a hard time accepting the author’s commentary was I didn’t view it in line with Daniel’s character.

And that’s where we are now: an examination of our character.  Bill Hybels, author and pastor at Willow Creek Church in Illinois, says that our character is “who we are when no one is looking” – in other words, it’s  what we do when no one around us can see is.  Are we honest only when someone’s watching?  Do we tell the truth only if we know we’d get caught telling the lie (but lie at other times)?  Do our actions remain consistent with our words?  Those are all issues of character.

And the only way we can have good character is to rest in the character of Jesus.  Scripture tells us that Jesus lives in us – that it is not our life we live but his.  In essence, this means the incarnation was both a one-time occurrence (back 2000 years ago) and also an on-going daily experience for those who call themselves Christians.  Think about that again – it’s not that we have to be good or do good, what we need to do is step aside and let Christ live his life THROUGH and IN us, so that it is HIS goodness and righteousness that others see – not our own.  In short, because of Christ we don’t need good character ourselves, we just need to rest in his perfect character.

That’s something Daniel didn’t have access to, but you and I do.